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   Chapter 32 No.32

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 6729

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Within two weeks of Lewis's departure for South America, Leighton returned from his shooting-trip. Despite the fact that he had not written telling Lewis he was coming, he felt a great chagrin at finding the flat deserted except for the ever-faithful Nelton.

"Where's the boy?" was Leighton's first question. Even as he stepped across the threshold he felt that he stepped into an empty house.

"South America," said Nelton, relieving his master of hat, stick, and gloves.

"South America!" cried Leighton, dismayed, and then smiled. "Well, he's getting his dad's tricks early. What for?"

"Don't know, sir. Mr. Lewis said as you'd get it from her ladyship."

Lady Derl was out of town. Leighton followed her, stayed two days, decided her momentary entourage was not to his taste, and returned to London. He reached the flat in the afternoon, just in time to receive a caller. The caller was Vi.

"Hallo!" said Leighton as Nelton showed her in, "this is fortune. Take off your things and stay."

"I will-some of them," drawled Vi; "but not just yet." She sat down.

"What on earth are you doing in town?" asked Leighton.

"Well," said Vi, "up to three weeks ago I was here at the beck and call of your son. Then he suddenly took French leave." She turned and faced Leighton. "Where has he gone? It isn't like one of you to be rude in little things."

"I don't think Lew meant to be rude," said Leighton. "He's gone to South America. He heard about some cousins he 'd lost track of, and he just bolted the next morning."

"Cousins!" said Vi. "I didn't know any one still went in for family ties to the extent of South America, short of a fat death."

"No," said Leighton, smiling; there's no money in this trip. Why were you at his beck and call?"

"Model," said Vi, coolly. "He's been doing me."

"Doing you!" said Leighton, looking at her curiously.

"There, there," said Vi, "don't let your imagination run away with you. Not in the nude. By the way, can you let me have the key? I left something in the studio, and I didn't like to go to Nelton."

"Certainly," said Leighton. "I'll walk by there with you."

Vi gave a shrug of protest, but Leighton's back was already turned. He fetched the key, and together they walked over to Lewis's atelier. When they had climbed the stairs and were at the door, Vi said a little breathlessly and without a drawl:

"Do you mind very much not coming in? I won't be but a minute."

Leighton glanced at her, surprised. "Not at all," he said, and handed her the key. He took out a cigarette and lit it as she opened the door and closed it behind her. He started pacing up and down the bare hall. Presently he grew impatient, and glanced at his watch; then he stopped short in his tracks. From behind the closed door came unmistakably the sound of a woman sobbing.

Leighton did not hesitate. He threw open the door and walked in. Except for Vi, curled up in a little heap on the couch, the atelier was very still, vast, somber. In its center shone a patch of light. In the patch of light, on a low working pedestal, stood a statue. On the floor were a tumbled cloth and a fallen screen. Leighton stood stock-still and stared.

The sculptured figure was that of a woman veiled in draperies that were merely suggested. Her face, from where Leighton stood, was turned away. Her right arm

was half outstretched, her left hung at her side, but it was peculiarly turned, as though to draw the watcher on. Then there was the left thigh. Once the eye fell on that, all else was forgotten. Into this sinking sweep had gone all the artist's terrific force of expression and suggestion. No live man would have thought of the figure as "Woman Leading the Way," once his eyes had fallen on that thigh. To such a one the statue named itself with a single flash to the brain, and the name it spoke was "Invitation."

Leighton's first impulse was one of unbounded admiration-the admiration we give to unbounded power. Then realization and a frown began to come slowly to his face. Vi, crumpled up on the couch, and sobbing hard, dry sobs,-the sobs that bring age,--helped him to realization. Lewis, his boy, had done a base thing.

Without moving, Leighton glanced about the room till his eyes fell on the mallet. Then he stepped quickly to it, picked it up, and crossed to the statue. Beneath his quick blows the brittle clay fell from the skeleton wires in great, jagged chunks. With his foot he crushed a few of them to powder. He tossed the mallet aside, and glanced at Vi. She was still crying, but she had half risen at the sound of his blows, and was staring at him through wet eyes.

Leighton started walking up and down, the frown still on his brow.

Finally he came to a stop before the couch.

"Vi," he said-"Vi, listen! You must tell me something. It isn't a fair question, but never mind that."

She lifted a tear-stained face.

"Vi," said Leighton, tensely, "did he follow?"

Vi raised herself on her arms and stared at him for a moment before she gasped:

"You fool, do you suppose I would have cared if he had followed?" Then shame gripped her, and she threw herself full-length again, face down. Her shoulders shook, but she made no sound.

Leighton waited half an hour. He spent the time walking up and down and smoking cigarettes. He was no longer frowning. At the end of the half-hour he caught Vi by the arms and lifted her to her feet.

"Come on," he said.

Vi stared at him as one half-awakened.

"I don't want to go anywhere," she said. "I'm very well here."

"Nonsense!" said Leighton, "you don't realize what you're doing to yourself. On my word, you look positively puttyish."

"Puttyish!" cried Vi, a flush of anger rising to her face. "Grapes, you're brutal! Since when have you learned to trample on a woman?"

"That's better," said Leighton, coolly. "I thought it would rouse you a bit."

Vi almost smiled at herself. She laid her hand on Leighton's arm and turned him toward the door.

"And they still say that no man knows women," she said. She paused and looked back at the fragments of the statue. Her lips twisted. "Even boys," she added, "pick out our naked souls and slap them in our faces."

As they walked slowly toward the flat, Vi said:

"I know why you had to ask that question. I'm glad you did. You were misjudging Lew. But you can be sure of one thing: no one but us three ever saw that statue; I know now that no one but just Lew and myself were ever meant to see it. He didn't want to model me that way. When I asked for it, he hesitated, then suddenly he gave in." She paused for a moment, then she added, "I believe it's part of a man's job to know when to trample on women."

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